Lipstadt, Alternative Facts and Northwestern University.

Published: 2017-05-04

There is a certain amount of irony in Professor Deborah Lipstadt's lecture on "Alternative Facts;” given the amount of misinformation surrounding the Irving v. Penguin Trial.

What was the Trial Really About?

Lipstadt and her supporters have loudly proclaimed that the trial “proved the Holocaust.” That is not accurate. Judge Gray specifically stated: “It is no part of my function to attempt to make findings as to what actually happened during the Nazi regime.”

Irving opened the case telling the court: “I have never held myself out to be a Holocaust expert, nor have I written books about what is now called the Holocaust.”

The case is better described as a wide-ranging questioning of Irving’s competence as a historian; an ex-post-facto effort to substantiate Lipstadt’s claim that Irving had falsified the historical record.  Judge Gray broke the alleged falsification of historical facts into 4 elements:

“(a) 19 specific individual criticisms of Irving’s historiography (ranging from Hitler's trial in 1924, Crime statistics for Berlin in 1930, and a mistranslation of Himmler's telephone log); (b) his portrayal of Hitler… (c) his claims in relation to Auschwitz (d) the bombing of Dresden.”

Only item (c) related to Holocaust matters.

Also consigned to the Memory Hole was the fact that Lipstadt did defame Irving.   Judge Gray wrote,

“The Defendants made no attempt to prove the truth of Lipstadt’s claim that Irving was scheduled to speak at an anti-Zionist conference in Switzerland in 1992, which was also to be attended by various representatives of terrorist organizations such as Hezbollah and Hamas. Nor did they seek to justify Lipstadt’s claim that Irving has a self-portrait by Hitler hanging over his desk. Furthermore the Defendants have, as I have held, failed in their attempt to justify the defamatory imputations made against Irving in relation to the Goebbels diaries in the Moscow archive."

If Irving had stuck to these clear defamations by Lipstadt and had not gone off on his classification as a Denier,  he would have won his case.  Instead, Irving was drawn into having to defend various obnoxious off-the-cuff comments he made about Auschwitz Camp, namely that no gas chambers were commissioned or operated at the camp. 

In fact, Irving had little knowledge about the operations at Auschwitz.  The defendants hired Dr. Robert Jan Van Pelt, a professor of architecture, as their expert on the functioning of the eight alleged gas chambers at Auschwitz. (There were, in fact, also numerous rooms for clothing fumigation at Auschwitz and Birkenau.)

Simply put, Van Pelt testified that Morgue 1 of Crematorium 2 could have been used as a gas chamber. It was here that Irving was overwhelmed. He raised only two objections to Van Pelt’s testimony about Crematorium 2, and nothing about any of the other “gas chambers.” It was a very poor performance by Irving.

Goliath v. David

A whole new set of facts were revealed in Kenneth Stern's "behind the scenes" article recounting his experiences in the Irving v. Penguin Trial.

Stern informs us that he was "a former trial lawyer specializing in high-profile cases" who was fortunate to be part of the defense team. Stern's comments provide insight into the phenomenal size of the defense team and the inconvenient facts left out of Lipstadt’s book and the film Denial.

The forgotten fact is that millions and millions of dollars were poured into the defense of Irving v. Penguin, funding "solicitors, barristers, graduate-student researchers, and the world’s top experts." A sub-team tracked through Irving’s voluminous writings.  Stern claims that he "worked with the lawyers, graduate students and experts, sometimes from London, and sometimes from my home in Brooklyn (where the courtroom stenographer’s real-time transcript appeared on my computer, and I could communicate with a paralegal with a vibrating cell phone in the courtroom, if need be)."  Stern describes the frenetic activity of the defense team, "One day we were all huddled in Julius’ office, with Rampton and the other barristers and solicitors on the phone, finishing a document that needed to be handed into court within the hour."  All this amazing talent, activity and resources were focused on one man, David Irving.  Irving had no barrister or solicitor, no team of world's top experts in architecture, no staff of researchers.   Irving faced this multimillion-dollar onslaught alone.

Forgotten Facts

Stern gets it right when he comments that the “behind the scenes” work on the case was not portrayed in the movie, and many of the in-court events of note weren’t either, including testimony from world-class historians such as Peter Longerich and Christopher Browning. Since Lipstadt herself did little during the trial (she neither testified nor even issued a press release) and spent the days sitting in court looking confused. Showing the huge expensive defense team would tarnish what little bit of "Erin Brockovic shine" the director and screenwriter tried to paint Lipstadt with.

Christopher Browning needed to be left out of Lipstadt's recounting because he agreed with Irving that there was never a formal Hitler Order for the mass killings of European Jews.  Brown testified in the Trial,

  "What had not been studied before you published was a particular focus on decision-making process and Hitler’s role. That is one part and, insofar as we can confine ourselves to that, indeed, your publication of Hitler’s War was the impetus for the research in that area.”  

Together, Irving and Browning have put the stake through the heart of the Holocaust  Intentionalist theory of history.

Peter Longerich was the defense expert who claimed that, since there was no Hitler Order, the Germans communicated with "a secret code."  But Judge Gray wrote: “Much of the argument revolved around questions of translation. I did not derive much assistance from the debate as to how words such as ausrotten, vernichten, abschaffen, umsiedeln and abtransportieren are to be translated.”

Fact Checking Lipstadt

Irving did not understand errors in Van Pelt's other points so it is worthwhile (but rather esoteric) to examine some of Lipstadt’s arguments about the alleged gas chambers given in her book. One needs to remember that the earliest presentation of the large collection of German construction documents relating to the Auschwitz crematorium was in Jean-Claude Pressac’s 1989 work Auschwitz: Technique and Operation of the Gas Chambers, published in French and English by The Beate Klarsfeld Foundation. Van Pelt seems to have copied/repeated what Pressac had found. The best work on the subject today is Carlo Mattogno’s The Real Case for Auschwitz, a must-read for anyone who wishes to understand the debate.

The matter is complicated because Lipstadt repeats arguments made by Van Pelt, who, in turn, is repeating facts reported by Pressac. However, since the subject of Denial is Lipstadt’s battle to “defend the veracity of historical facts,” it seems fair play to fact-check on two of her claims:

that the construction plans for the cremation buildings and morgues were “secret,” and the significance of the corpse chute.

1. Secret Plans. Lipstadt claims that the modifications to the crematorium plans were “something unique” and hidden from the normal drafters of the plans: “Why, Robert Jan wondered, such strict secrecy, if the buildings were just morgues?” But Pressac addressed the issue,

“With a covering letter of 2nd August 1942 [Document 1], Huta was sent ten Bauleitung drawings of the building. All of these have survived, except for drawing 1341 of the doors and dormer windows. This letter, signed by the head of the Bauleitung Bischoff, and signed on receipt on 4th August by a Huta person (left-hand signature), is material proof that, contrary to what was thought after the war, there was nothing secret about the drawings of Crematorium II, for they were sent to a civilian firm with no particular instructions. […]

The Huta number 7015/IV was inscribed on two Bauleitung drawings: 936 (Elevations) [Document 3] and 980 (Roof frame). This irrefutably confirms that Huta’s civilian employees, who were perfectly free to talk of their work outside, were fully conversant with the drawings of Crematorium II, and studied them carefully, as proved by the static studies carried out, In the face of such evidence, it is difficult to go on talking about ‘secrecy’.”

2. The Corpse Chute.  “Robert Jan also took note of what had been removed from the original plans. There had been a concrete slide on the side of the building... It had been replaced with a staircase." This was presented as proof of a sinister plan since it meant that the corpses would have “walked into the morgue.”  This argument was specifically referred to by Judge Gray to support his ruling against Irving.  But the true facts are that Van Pelt was looking at a general and undefined plan, Drawing 2003. The corpse chute appears in the latter Drawing Set 2791. What Van Pelt also ignores is that the corpse chute was built in both Krema II and III. Not only was the chute built, but it would have interfered with passage of people from the “undressing room” (Morgue 2) to Morgue 1, the alleged gas chamber. Pressac writes:

“This drawing [2003] was made at a time when work on Crematorium II was well advanced, and the main structure was completed, so only part of the modifications were actually realized in the building. The stairway was built, as can still be seen in the ruins, but the corpse chute was also built, no doubt because it was already in place when drawing 2003 was made.”


“The corpse chute was built in Krematorium III and can still be seen in the ruins. As in Krematorium II, it was closed off by a wooden wall (Bauleitung order of 0/4/43, completed by the DAW workshops on 14/4/43).”

The Judgment.

The defendants peppered their trial presentation with similar misstatements of facts, and, to be fair to David Irving, it required detailed knowledge to spot defendants’ many distortions. Worst of all, Irving did not have the funds to bring any experts to trump Van Pelt, scholars like Germar Rudolf, Jürgen Graf or Carlo Mattogno.   It is unfortunate that Northwestern is presenting Professor Lipstadt's set of alternative facts without the public having a chance to hear a correction or comment.

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Author(s): David Merlin
Title: Lipstadt, Alternative Facts and Northwestern University.
Published: 2017-05-04
First posted on CODOH: May 4, 2017, 2:30 a.m.
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